In what is being seen as an attempt to blunt the Opposition’s plan of projecting unrest among certain sections as signs of the government’s dipping popularity, the ruling BJP in Maharashtra unveiled several populist measures on Wednesday.
Reaching out to the middle class, the Cabinet adopted a draft legislation aimed at regulating and capping prices of pulses, which have witnessed a spike in recent days. Further, with the Opposition targeting it over its failure to rein in farm distress triggered by drought, the government doled out fresh sops for the farm sector.
The Cabinet approved a Rs 5,000-crore loan restructuring plan for farmers whose kharif crops were ravaged by drought in 2015-16.
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Cooperatives Minister Chandrakant Patil said that 48.41 lakh farmers had availed loans totalling Rs 29,680 crore from lending institutions for kharif cultivation in 15-16.
“It has now been found that farmers in 27,609 drought-hit villages have run into loan arrears worth Rs 5,000 crore. These farmers would not have been eligible for availing a new loan in ‘16-17 unless the arrears were paid off. So the Cabinet decided to restructure the repayment schedule for these loans, which will now be spread over five years. The state will bear the whole interest amount due in the first year for such loans, whereas for the remaining four years, 50 per cent of the interest will be paid by the state,” Patil said.
Simultaneously, the government also advanced loan repayment schedule for the Rs 3,503-crore loans availed by 5.33 lakh farmers in 2014-15, which were similarly reconstructed last year. Despite the state’s tight financial position, the government has also decided to approach the Reserve Bank of India to restructure loans worth Rs 2,439 crore, availed by farmers in 2012-13 and 2014-15.
Meanwhile, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Girish Bapat claimed that Maharashtra was the country’s first state to adopt a price control mechanism for pulses. Following the Cabinet nod, Bapat said the draft legislation would be sent to the Centre for Presidential assent.
“Once the assent comes, a notification for its implementation would be brought out. Rules of business will be readied before that,” he said.
The Devendra Fadnavis government had come under criticism when tur dal prices shot up to Rs 200 per kg last October. With drought adversely impacting production of pulses this year too, there has been a hike in retail tur dal prices recently.
Bapat said the draft legislation would apply to the sale of tur dal, black gram, green gram, lentils, beans, etc,across the state. But the capping rate would vary for different areas, since transportation costs and local factors would have to be taken into account, he said.
Bapat also said the cap will be different for producers of pulses and for those involved in its trade.
“The government would fix the prices taking into account the availability of pulses, demand and supply, among other factors,” he said. Rates once fixed will be applicable for a maximum of six months. To control an artificial spike in prices, the draft legislation makes it mandatory for producers and dealers to record sale by providing authentic receipts to the buyers.
Bapat also said that the government was mulling a plan of asking producers and traders to display the maximum retail price on the sale product itself, but said this was challenging as dal was often sold loose. Provisions of penalising and imprisonment of up to one year for those violating norms have been made, Bapat said.
Senior government sources, however, conceded that till the Act is implemented, the government will have to rely on inspection drives to check hoarding and improve supplies as its main tool to control prices. “Instructions have been issued to district collectorates and the District Supply Officers (DSOs) to be vigilant and check hoarding of pulses,” a senior official said. Stocking limits imposed for tur dal by the Centre are in force till September 30, 2016. Bapat also informed that discussion was on in the state and the Centre over the feasibility of announcing fixed remunerative prices for tur dal.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government has written to the Centre for allotment of 2.12 lakh quintal of tur dal purchased by the Food Corporation of India and the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Fedration of India Limited from farmers in Maharashtra for buffer stock.